ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) – City of St. Louis officials have responded to the advocacy groups who voiced concerns about conditions at the City Justice Center (CJC) following a riot over the weekend.
Saturday morning, inmates at the CJC broke out fourth-floor windows, tossed items onto the street, set fires and beat a guard. Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said some inmates were able to jimmy the locks to their cell, even though the system indicated they were locked. This was the fourth incident at the facility since December.
Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, ArchCity Defenders, Elad Gross, Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center and the Office of the Missouri State Public Defender sent a letter to Mayor Lyda Krewson, Edwards and Commissioner Dale Glass. In the letter, the groups wrote they have heard “numerous accounts of incarcerated people who have bravely stood up and spoken out, desperately trying to bring attention to their situation and demand that they be treated humanely.”
The numerous groups wrote about “inadequate protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” which they alleged included a lack of soap or running water and insufficient personal protective equipment.
Firefighters and police were called to the St. Louis City Justice Center after inmates were seen setting fires from inside the building.
“These concerns have only escalated and conditions worsened, since the protest this weekend,” the letter read. “We have received first-person reports of some people in CJC going over 72 hours without being provided with food or water, the very most basic necessities of life. Other floors are receiving limited, but insufficient, food. Others have had access to showers, commissary and calls to family restricted or entirely withheld. People have been forced to sleep on the floor without any bedding for multiple nights in a row.”
The advocacy groups also claimed the floors inmates were forced to sleep on are covered in sewage and filth because the water to the toilets is turned off, causing them to overflow. They also claimed heat is being turned off.
After outlining what they’ve heard from inmates, lawyers and family members, the groups asked the city to confirm they are providing detainees access to clean drinking water, food, mattresses and bedding. They also requested a tour of the facility and the ability to talk with detainees.
Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner says her office has launched an investigation into what led to Saturday’s revolt at the City Justice Center.
After receiving the letter, City Counselor Michael Garvin provided them a written response. In the opening paragraph, he wrote, “Although your letter is clearly intended to spread a false narrative, I will indulge it with a response in order to set the record set.”
Garvin then went on the contradict the claims from the advocacy groups, “Contrary to your unsupported allegations, CJC staff observes detailed and rigorous protocols to protect detainees and Corrections staff from the COVID-19 virus.” He also wrote that inmates are quarantined for 14 days when they arrive, and all detainees receive adequate medical care and masks.
“If a detainee requests a COVID test or a nurse detects symptoms, a COVID test is administered immediately (unless the detainee refuses),” Garvin’s letter said. He also called the advocacy groups’ accusations “an insult to the Corrections officers, nurses and doctors who have worked diligently (and successfully) to protect the health and safety of detainees at CJC and MSI.”
According to Garvin, water is only “turned off” when toilets are “intentionally” plugged “with clothing and flood the jail floors. Detainees who persist with such conduct are given scheduled times when their water will be turned on.”
Garvin also wrote that inmates are provided meals, including special selections for diabetics, vegetarians and those who are lactose intolerant, and a combination toilet-sink unit that provides access to drinking water. He also said a heating system installed last year keeps the facility at 72 degrees.
Garvin concluded his response letter by stating the city does not have any plans to provide tours of the facility.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's office has launched an investigation into what led to the riot at the CJC. In addition, a corrections task force was launched days after the incident to examine the complaints.